Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Blues: Is there such thing as a Game 7 edge?

Blackhawks-Blues: Is there such thing as a Game 7 edge?

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks have played a few of these Game 7s in the past.

In every case over the past five years they forced the Game 7, winning late in a series to erase a deficit. They’ve had momentum entering each one. And on Sunday, prior to departing for St. Louis, the Blackhawks liked where they were entering this Game 7, too.

“Well, I think we wanted to get ourselves in this spot,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We put ourselves in an awful spot a little while ago. [Now] we put ourselves exactly where we want to be. We’ve got momentum; we’ve got to be excited about this challenge.”

There’s never a doubt about the excitement level. Hockey Game 7s just bring that out of every team, whether it’s the one that had the series lead or not. But does the team entering with momentum have the Game 7 edge, especially if that team has several players who have been through this before? Or with the series squared and with both squads facing elimination, is there such thing as having an edge?

“I think it helps to be there and have that experience,” said Marian Hossa, who’s played in six Game 7s since the 2008-09 season. “But again [it’s] starting 0-0, so it could go either way. Maybe in certain times you can use that experience.”

The Blackhawks certainly have been here before, playing in four previous Game 7s under Quenneville. They lost in overtime in Vancouver in the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals, beat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime in the 2013 conference semifinals, fell to Los Angeles in overtime of the 2014 conference final and beat Anaheim in last year’s conference final.

So it’s been mixed results. Outside of last year’s game against the Ducks, in which the Blackhawks built a big lead early, every game has been tightly contested. The Blackhawks expect the same close game tomorrow against the Blues.

The Blackhawks came back from a 3-1 hole in this series to force Game 7. They have enough guys on this team who know winning Game 7s means playing the right way, keeping calm in anxious situations and getting something from everyone.

Having one other element doesn’t hurt, either.

“I think you have to have mental toughness,” Duncan Keith said. “I mean, I don’t think we really analyze things too much or try to measure certain things. But we’re just out there playing and we know that when we’re down 3-1 we’re in a situation where we’ve got nothing to lose. We were down 3-1 and we found a way to do it in Game 5, and then last night I thought we played a good game and had a lot of composure being down 3-1 in the game at one point. So it’s just kind of sticking with it.”

The Blackhawks clawed their way back into this first-round series. The Blues have been a formidable opponent, and they’ll be hungry to dispatch their division foe on their home ice. Can the Blackhawks eke out one more? They’ve been here, done this before, and they’re looking to do it again.

“We put ourselves in a tremendous spot. Have fun with it, play the way we did the last couple of games,” Quenneville said. “We keep getting better, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."